What You Need to Know About the Omicron Variant
The coronavirus is still among us, and new variants continue to appear. For example, the Omicron variant, identified in late November, is now the dominant strain here in the U.S., accounting for more than 73% of nationwide cases.
According to the CDC, Omicron is responsible for up to 90% of new COVID-19 cases in some parts of the country.
Will There Be More SARS-CoV-2 Variants?
Yes. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is constantly changing and mutating its genetic code. As a result, experts expect new variants of SARS-CoV-2 to continue to emerge.
Some variants will quickly disappear, while others will emerge and continue to spread, becoming what is known as a variant of concern.
What Is a Variant of Concern?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a variant of concern as a mutation that can:
- Spread more easily
- Cause more severe illness
- Antibodies from previous infections or acquired from vaccination are not as effective in combating the new variant
- Current treatments are not as effective against the new variant
Read more about COVID-19 variants, what you need to know.
Know Where to Go in Case of an Emergency.
Is Omicron the Only Variant in the United States Right Now?
Unfortunately, no. While Omicron is spreading faster than any other variant we’ve had in the past, different variants are still circulating.
Although Omicron is the dominant strain of the virus right now, the Delta variant (previously the dominant variant) still accounts for more than 26% of COVID-19 illnesses.
Is Omicron More Severe?
The scientific community continues to study the Omicron variant. As a result, much remains unknown, including if it causes more or less severe illness.
Early studies suggest that current vaccines offer protection against severe illness and death. However, those fully vaccinated will need a booster shot to increase their defenses and avoid Omicron infection.
Who Is Most Affected by Omicron?
Omicron spreads faster than other variants and can infect anyone. However, we’ve seen a significant increase in children testing positive for the new variant in the last weeks.
To put this in perspective, children accounted for 17.3% of total cases since the pandemic began. For the week ending on December 16th, 23.7% of weekly reported COVID-19 cases were children 18 or younger.
More concerning is the fact that pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 are surging, with close to 800 new daily admissions.
Public health officials are especially concerned about small children aged five and younger who are not eligible for the vaccine against COVID-19.
Early reports from South Africa and the United Kingdom show a bump in hospital admissions for that age group. And although we don’t know for sure if this trend will continue in America, extra precautions to safeguard young children from infection need to take place.
Can I Get Omicron if I’ve Already Had COVID-19 or I’m Vaccinated?
Yes, you can get infected with Omicron even if you have antibodies from a previous COVID-19 infection or if you have been vaccinated.
There are several reasons for this. First, the vaccines reduce your risk of developing severe illness and reduce your risk of dying from COVID-19, but they don’t prevent infections.
Aside from this, the new variant Omicron has more mutations than previous strains, making it easier for it to bypass your system’s antibodies.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself and Your Family From Omicron
The protection measures against Omicron are the same recommended for other variants and include:
- Continue to wear a mask when out in public
- Do your best to keep a physical distance of at least 6-feet when out
- Constantly ventilate rooms when you are indoors
- Continue to wash your hands regularly
- Avoid coughing or sneezing in front of others. Remember to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
- Get vaccinated if you haven’t
- Get your booster shot if you are eligible
- If you believe that you have COVID, get tested
When to Seek Immediate Emergency Care
According to the CDC, seek emergency medical care immediately if you or someone you know experiences any of the following:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone
Please keep in mind that this list is not the complete list of warning signs, please seek immediate medical care if you experience other severe symptoms. It is advisable to call ahead or check-in online.
While Omicron seems to cause less severe illness in most patients, it continues to be a threat for vulnerable groups. Because of this, we should all do our part to help keep our community safe.
At Altus Emergency Centers, we continue to work hard to provide the best care for our patients even during these challenging times. Remember, we are safe, fast and always open for you and your family when you most need it.
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